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Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zatzal
He lived in a very small apartment on the edge of the Me'ah She'arim section of Jerusalem, yet his word had a direct impact on Torah observant Jews around the world. CHAZAQ presents a small glimpse into the life of one of the greatest Torah sages of our generation: Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zatzal.
By CHAZAQ Staff
On the day after his wedding, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv asked his wife if she would allow him to postpone some of the errands he had to perform so that he can study Torah undisturbed. Having understood that her husband wanted to begin his married life with the proper spiritual growth, she readily and happily complied. "For how long?" she asked. "One thousand days," was his response. As it turned out, the errands were taken care of by external sources, and with the encouragement of his late wife, Rav Elyashiv hasn't stopped engrossing himself in Torah, till the day of his passing.
Day in and day out, year after year, for the eighty years after his wedding, Rav Elyashiv's daily schedule included anywhere between 16 to 20 hours of intensive Torah study. Shabbat. Holidays. Birth of children and birth of great-great-great grandchildren. Bar Mitzvahs. Weddings. Despite having many valid reasons to excuse himself from his tight schedule, Rav Elyashiv continues to remain firm in his daily routine of toiling and delving into the depths of the holy Torah. Every moment of his life was accounted for. Not a single minute was wasted. His daughter, Bat-Sheva o.b.m, the wife of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, a great Torah scholar in his own right, had attested that her father began his learning schedule at approximately 2 or 3 AM on a daily basis, after a short night's sleep of only three to four hours.
A Miraculous Life
Born in Lithuania in the year 1910, Rav Yosef Shalom was an only child to Rav Avrohom and Chaya Erener. His maternal grandfather, Rav Shlomo Elyashiv, was a great Talmid Chacham (Torah Scholar) and author of famous Kabbalistic works (the Leshem). Rav Avrohom Erener adapted his father-in-law's last name, Elyashiv, as his family name in order to unite the two families as one and receive a certificate to enter the land of Israel. The family moved to Israel in 1922 when Yosef Shalom was twelve years old. Rav Avrohom Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, the Ashkenazi chief Rabbi of Israel at the time, had made arrangements to bring the Elyashivs to the Holy Land, and seven years later he arranged the shidduch of Rav Yosef Shalom with the daughter of Rav Aryeh Levin zt"l (of blessed memory).
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv's daughter, Sarah, the wife of the late Rav Yosef Yisroelson, relates that her father was stricken with several illnesses throughout his childhood and adult life as well. On several occasions, his family thought his last days were approaching. Doctors didn't give him much hope, yet, baruch Hashem (thank G-d), he overcame all his physical obstacles, and has outlived the very doctors who didn't give him a great chance of survival.
His birth was a miracle. In fact, his parents were childless for seventeen years. His survival was a miracle. He has been Hashem's (G-d's) gift to the Jewish people in a generation where uncompromising leadership had been lacking.
A Quiet Leader
Despite a quiet demeanor and shying away from the public spotlight, Rav Elyashiv was always been at the forefront of preserving the Mesorah (authentic traditions) of the Jewish people. In the early 1950's, he was already known as a leading Posek (halachic authority) in Jerusalem, and at the behest of several Gedolei Yisrael (leading Torah Sages), he accepted a position as a dayan (Rabbinical Judge) at the Beth Din Hagadol (high rabbinical court). In his twenty two year tenure at the Beth Din, he was joined by great Torah scholars such as Rav Betzalel Zolty, Rav Yaakov Ades, Rav Eliezer Goldsmidt, and Rav Ovadia Yossef.
During this time, Rav Elyahsiv led fierce battles against several Rabbinic authorities that had compromised halacha in matters such as Mamzerim, Giyurim, and Kashrut. Although Shalom, peace, is always sought after, truth is the seal of G-D. Rav Elyashiv did not shy away from making a stand when deemed necessary, and due to his leadership, many of the fundamentals of Judaism have been preserved.
In the early 1970's, Rav Elyashiv resigned from his position at the Beth Din, and returned to a more private life in which he studied throughout the day. Nevertheless, his opinion was always sought after. His home was the address for all major issues involving Jewish communities in Israel and eventually worldwide. His expertise in all areas of the Torah brought the greatest Torah scholars to his doorsteps. Is a proposed abortion allowed, required, or prohibited? Is a certain sale valid or void? Is a particular product Kosher or not? Thousands of questions crossed his table on a yearly basis from Rabbinic authorities around the world. And his answers? Always authorative and to the point. Nothing more, nothing less.
In 1989, Harav Elazar Menachem Mann Shach zt"l, who was the Manhig, leader, of the so-called Torah world, had requested from Rav Elyashiv to take a more active role in Jewish public life. A short time later, Rav Shach, who had lost virtually all his vision and hearing, passed the mantle of leadership to Rav Elyashiv, who has carried the position to the day of his passing.
Man of Integrity
Several years ago, the fuses of the electrical heaters that had been installed in Rav Elyashiv's apartment blew out. A grandson suggested that an electrician who attended Rav Elyashiv's daily Gemara shiur (Talmud class) be hired to fix the problem. Fearing the electrician would give him a special discount out of respect for his Rabbinic position, Rav Elyashiv told his grandson to hire him only on the condition that he be charged the regular rate for the service. Although the electrician was more than honored to serve the Rabbi, he reluctantly agreed to charge him the full price upon seeing that he was adamant about not receiving any special discounts.
At the time the electrician finished the job, Rav Elyashiv was sitting and learning when he was notified that his daughter, Rebetzin Shoshana Zilberstein, had passed away. Upon digesting the tragic news, Rav Elyashiv took out the Shulchan Aruch on Aveilut (Laws of mourning) and learnt the relevant laws with utmost concentration. Then as he was preparing to go to Bnei Brak for the funeral, he asked his grandson to find out how much he owed the electrician so that he can pay him without delay. Only after writing the check out to the electrician, did he proceed to the funeral of his daughter.
This story truly depicts the inner essence of Rav Elyashiv. He lived a life of Torah. Money, fame, and honor did not concern him. All he cared of was fulfilling his purpose in this world, and guiding others in doing the same.Those who had to privilege to meet him, must know that it was a tremendous merit to be in his vicinity.
Yehi Ratzon that he should be a Melitz Yosher for all of Klal Yisrael, Amen.